UP's Kol Adivasis to Boycott Polls Until Scheduled Tribe Status Demand Is Met

They have affirmed that the political boycott will remain until their demands for water, road transport and inclusion into the Scheduled Tribes are fulfilled.

Manikpur, UP: A resistance movement is brewing in the Hindi heartland – the region that drastically swung from supporting the BSP through the years to witnessing a decisive BJP win in the last election.

The Kol adivasis of Manikpur in Uttar Pradesh’s Chitrakoot district have declared an election boycott. They will not vote for any political party in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. They have affirmed that the political boycott will remain until their demands for water, road transport and inclusion into the Scheduled Tribes are fulfilled.

In the same vein as Bargadh village’s women voters, who vowed to usher in a new government following the dismal performance of the current regime – specifically with regard to policies touted as pro-poor like the Ujjwala Yojna – the residents of Kota Kandaila, Panhai and Uncha Dih, have declared their protest and even made the banners.

Terming themselves the Kol Ekta Manch, the banners are undersigned ‘all citizens’ – a testament to a struggle that has been ongoing ever since the Independence of India: changing their current SC status to ST.

Anand Kumar Singh of Sigwa village states the core problem: “Not a single MLA, MP, official or bureaucrat has even glanced in this direction after procuring his vote. One of our greatest problems is transport. The roads of our grandfathers no longer exist – and no one cares to think about which road connects Hanumanganj or Manikpur to us.”

Speaking of the other big problem that this largely Kol Adivasi populace faces, besides transport – the lack of water, an angry Phoolkumari adds, “How is a poor man to get to Hanumanganj? Travel through the jungle on foot, not a rupee in your pocket, that’s how! Men have had their necks twisted, murdered, as they were making their way in the woods! That’s all we ask for. Water, a road and a little improvement in our standard of living. Do we not deserve that? And what is the meaning of casting your vote if none of this is likely to happen?”

The decision to boycott the elections stems from decades of being disaffected and ignored. If you speak with Premchand Kol, he is bound to show you a paper he carries around – an acknowledgement from the Mulayam Singh government promising due redressal and consideration to the demands raised by the Kol Adivasis of the area.

The letter is dated 2006 and the demands remain the same.

Also read: In UP’s Chitrakoot, Poor RTE Implementation Leaves School Without Basic Amenities

Out of the 36 lakh Kols in UP, the estimate of Mau Manikpur Vidhan Sabha’s Kol voters – as of early 2019 – is 70,000. Needless to say, as the disenfranchised bahujan votebank, they wield considerable political weight.

Shakti Singh Tomar, spokesperson for the BJP-hopeful from this constituency R.K. Patel, opts for the equivocal response: “What is the quota for Scheduled Tribe status, tell me? It is 3%.” Tomar goes onto reason that, while gram sabhas are able to elect upto 25 pradhans through SC reservation, an ST status will imply a significant dent in representation.

“And what of their immediate demands?” we asked.

“Projects to cement roads that would shorten travel [times] hundred-fold, thousand-fold in fact, are in the planning stages,” he informs us.

Budhraj Patel, the pradhan of the 25,000-strong gram sabha, supports the boycott: “The people [of Kota Kandaila] are right; these are the deep interiors, and there is no sign of development in these parts.”

Premchand from the community minces no words when he pronounces, poetically summing it up, “The only real currency around here, which has value, is the Kol vote.” And it is this very currency that an entire community, with an eye on the polling date of May 6, is being forced to hold to ransom.

Khabar Lahariya is a rural, video-first digital news organisation with an all-women network of reporters in eight districts of Uttar Pradesh.